Game Preview: Celtics at Wizards

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON - The Boston Celtics (5-9) and Washington Wizards (2-13) are getting to know each other pretty well during this shortened regular season. They will face off for the third time this season when they meet at 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon in Washington.

This will be the third meeting between the two teams in less than a month’s time, and the Celtics will be looking to sweep that three-game series on Sunday. The C’s and Wizards will not see each other on the court again until March 25.

Boston’s first two wins came by eight points apiece during a rare home-and-home series to start off 2012. The Celtics defeated the Wizards in Washington, 94-86, on New Year’s day, then knocked them off again the next day in Boston by a score of 100-92.

One of the key sparkplugs for Boston in those two wins was Rajon Rondo, who drastically outplayed second-year guard John Wall. Rondo averaged 13.5 APG over those two contests and tallied Boston’s only triple-double of the season on New Year’s Day.

Wall may get a break on Sunday, though, because the Celtics may be forced to play without Rondo. The All-Star point guard suffered a sprained right wrist on Wednesday night and missed Friday’s tilt against Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns. Doc Rivers noted before that contest that he was hoping to have Rondo back for Sunday’s game, but it will likely be a game-time decision.

In addition to Rondo’s uncertainty, Boston has also been playing without the services of Keyon Dooling and Chris Wilcox. Those two have missed the past five and four games, respectively, with injuries. Dooling is nursing a sore right knee, while Wilcox has been fighting back from a sore left calf.

There is a slight indication that all of those players could be on the floor Sunday afternoon. All 15 players on Boston’s roster made the trip to Washington. The Celtics typically don’t travel their players until they are ready to play or very close to being ready to play. So while Rondo, Dooling and Wilcox are all officially listed as day-to-day, we may see them all in this game.

Washington, on the other hand, has only one player listed on its injury report. Ronny Turiaf has a fractured left hand and he is ruled out for this game. Other than Turiaf, Flip Saunders should have his entire roster at his disposal.

That had been the case during the first two meetings between these two teams, but it wasn’t enough to help the Wizards come anywhere near a win. In the New Year’s Day game, Boston led by as many as 19 points and dominated from start to finish. The second game was much closer, with 17 lead changes and 11 ties, but the Celtics outscored Washington by nine points in the fourth quarter en route to an eight-point victory.

Saunders has made a key change to his rotation since those two meetings. Rashard Lewis has been relegated to the bench in favor of rookie Chris Singleton. Singleton is known for his defense and that’s why he has been inserted into the starting lineup.

The Wizards have been playing better basketball since that switch was made eight games ago. Washington has won only two games this season, but it knocked off the Thunder Wednesday night and its two most recent losses have been by an average of just 6.0 PPG.

The record may indicate that this should be an easy victory for Boston, but the Wizards are a very talented team that can deliver on any given night. The Thunder can tell you all about that from their most recent meeting. Boston will have to play well to win this game, whether it has a healthy roster or not.

Contain McGee

Jermaine O’Neal had a tough game Friday night. Marcin Gortat pretty much dominated the matchup between the two from the opening tip until the final buzzer. JaVale McGee has had similar success against O’Neal and the Celtics this season, and that will need to change on Sunday.

McGee has been the most consistent player for the Wizards against the Celtics this season. He has averaged 16.5 PPG, 14.0 RPG and 4.0 BPG during the teams’ two meetings.

O’Neal allowed Gortat to rack up 24 points and 12 boards on Friday, so he’ll have a fresh memory in his head about another center outplaying him. McGee is a long, athletic player, who makes his money by being active. That means O’Neal will need to counter that activity all afternoon in order to contain McGee. It’s a lot to ask for out of a 33-year-old center, but O’Neal is capable of delivering.

Rondo-less Offense?

If Rondo does not play in this game the Celtics need to find a way to score the basketball without him. The offense was nearly nonexistent on Friday night against the Phoenix Suns during Rondo’s first missed game of the season. Boston scored just 71 points and shot 40.5 percent from the floor. There was no movement on offense, and no clear-cut point guard on the floor.

The Celtics did rack up 20 assists in that game, but that number is misleading. If Avery Bradley is forced to start at point guard again, either he, Ray Allen or Paul Pierce will need to take the reigns in running this offense. Allen and Pierce combined to commit eight turnovers on Friday when they tried to initiate the offense. They cannot afford to do that again if Boston wants to win this game.

Be Aggressive

The absence of Rondo took quite a toll on Boston’s offense in the form of lack of aggression. No one – and I mean no one – had their mind set to be aggressive at the offensive end on Friday night.

The evidence to support that statement is overwhelming. The Celtics attempted just nine free throws in the entire game on Friday. Allen was the lead man with four attempts, and one of those came via a defensive three-second violation by Phoenix. On top of that, no one on the roster took more than 14 shots or made more than five.

Yes, Rondo is the ignition to Boston’s offense, but if he’s unavailable someone on this team will need to step up and be aggressive. Nine free throw attempts isn’t going to do it against many teams, even if they’re 2-13 on the season.